Guest Post: Worry Wart- Mental Health and Comic Books

WWimage002In light of recent events, it seems the whole world is talking about mental health right now.

I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that.

My name is Dani Abram and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2009, after years of struggling. When advised by my GP to keep a mood diary, I began drawing my experiences onto paper and my webcomic series ‘Worry Wart’ was born.

Publishing my deepest fears onto the internet in such a public and personal way was extremely scary but ultimately one of the best things I have done in my fight against anxiety. My ‘coming out’ post was intended to tell my friends what I was dealing with, how I felt and what drugs I was prescribed. This mass confession was extremely cathartic and it turned out I needn’t have been scared at all. I received well wishes, support and love from every corner of the earth. From friends and strangers alike, some fellow sufferers and some not.

But it became the act of drawing out my story that helped the most. I noticed I was replacing my panic inducing memories with cute cartoons. Now, when I am in a situation that might once have provoked a panic attack, I can’t remember the last time it happened like I used to. But I can remember the page of Worry Wart that relates to it. For those that might not suffer, panic and fear become our learned reactions to ordinary situations. I say ‘learned’ because once you have a panic attack in a normal, everyday scenario, you are likely to have another in the same situation because of the fear of ‘what happened last time.’ I’ll use the example of a supermarket, as it can be quite a common trigger. Supermarkets are usually very busy, fast paced and high stress affairs. People are in a rush to complete their shopping, presumably to get on with other more fun things! (I actually love shopping now, I do it reeeeally slowly!) During the worst years of my panic attacks, I had one in a supermarket check-out queue. I had already placed all my items on the belt and was awaiting my turn. There must have been some delay in service and I noticed there was now a hefty queue behind me too. I instantly knew I was trapped. It is this idea of not being able to escape, of being committed to spending time in a scenario against my will that I felt I couldn’t cope with. I thought it would be embarrassing for myself and for others if I had to leave for any reason and so I knew I had to stay there. I heart began to race, I began to sweat, my adrenaline surged and I began to breathe faster. I also started to cry, which embarrassed me more and turned all the other symptoms up to eleven.wwimage003

After that event, every supermarket visit evoked the same response, and so I stopped going altogether in what is known as a ‘safety behaviour.’

This is not a lesson in what anxiety is or what it isn’t, rather a personal anecdote to my own anxiety. I drew my experience of the supermarket in my sketchbook. Every line drawn became a mission to document how I felt. I removed myself from it in order to remember the scene as if I was a bystander. This act became my therapy.
Worry Wart has since been the making of me. It has been a long rocky journey to wellness and, for me, comics were a big, big part of that. Drawing my own of course, but also reading others.

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A wonderful online comic that I clung to focused on finding the little positives every day. It is by Rachael Smith and is called One Good Thing. I read it daily, feeling safe that I was definitely not alone. She taught me to think about what good things happened to me, rather than panicking about the bad. I have drawn many One Good Things myself. I wonder if drawing her comic helped her as much as drawing mine helped me? ^_^

Another extremely funny, brilliant and inspired look at depression is the popular Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh. This really pokes depression with a stick in a childlike and crude way, making me laugh out loud at her experiences and relating them to my own.wwimage009

This coming weekend will see the release of the first print version of Worry Wart, collecting my first volume of comics and original blog posts. I am launching it at Melksham Comic Con and appearing alongside others on a Mental Health and Comic Books panel. I can not wait to talk about my experiences and how comics have helped me claw back my life.

Hayley Spencer, the founder and organiser of Melksham Comic Con as well as the towns LCS ‘Komix Melksham,’ organised the panel programme months ago. When she got in touch asking me to be apart of the Mental Health panel I couldn’t have said yes faster! Wiltshire MIND had already confirmed their presence and Hayley had a clear passion for promoting talk about mental health issues. I asked her why including a mental health talk was so important to her.

“The choice to do a panel on Mental Health in the comic industry was a group decision,” said Hayley. “Many, if not all of the planning team have been affected by mental health in some way at some point. For myself, having my best friend (who is also an artist and fellow panellist!) diagnosed this year as bi-polar made it all the more real and close to home.”

“The thing is, mental health has the curse of being a hidden illness so it easily gets ignored or brushed under the carpet as non-issue or as an excuse for not getting things done, or in anti-social, among other things. As a society, we’re being stupid to ignore it and think it’ll just go away. It won’t.  Art therapy and creativity has long been recommended as ways to combat depression, encourage people to interact with reality in a gentle form and start the healing process, and art in its many vast forms is available for pretty much everyone if you can find a medium that speaks to you. It doesn’t have to be drawing or painting. Writing, speaking, hell, curl your hair if you’re good at it and it makes you feel accomplished. You don’t have to realise it’s art for it to be that.

The other side that I’m hoping our panel will explore is that sometimes working in the arts and *then* developing a mental health problem can create stumbling blocks too. How can art be therapy if it’s your job and you can’t do it anymore? What happens then? This is where MIND are on hand to discuss further, with people who wish to, the other options available to help individuals and those who care about them to get the help that is suited to them.”

I am so proud to be a little part of her mission to get people talking about mental health in order to reduce stigma, and so happy that a comic con is marrying my passion for comics with health.

I also volunteer with Bristol MIND and will have leaflets and advice with me for anyone that wants to approach my table and ask ‘now what?’ If you’ll be attending Melksham Comic Con, please think about popping into our panel at 12pm on Saturday 30th August and please feel free to drop by my table any time!

If you’re struggling and need help, or know someone who does, check out MIND Charity. They have tons of advice and resources on their website and links to lots of free help <3

Please take care.

Guest Blogger: Dani Abram

Sources:

Worry Wart: http://bintykins.blogspot.co.uk/p/worry-wart.html

Melksham Comic Con:  http://melkshamcomiccon.com/

Melksham Panel Programme: http://melkshamcomiccon.com/index.php/details/panels

Rachael Smith: http://rachaelsmith.org

One Good Thing: http://rachaelsonegoodthing.blogspot.co.uk/

Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/

MIND Charity: http://www.mind.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. I cannot agree more with this post . I have suffered with Social Anxiety disorder for six years now and have just finished a year long university arts course. The help from mind and my family and friends kept me going. Oh on the odd side I used to work for Tesco’s and had a panic attack while working on a checkout.

  2. I’m sorry you can relate Gareth but I am so glad you have a support network. It’s so important! Did comics help too? ^_^
    Wouldn’t it make a funny story to have me panicking at the supermarket check out and you panicking whilst serving :p

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